Group ponders building’s fate

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

LAHARPE — While opinions still varied about specifics, most of the 25 or so local residents who attended a special LaHarpe Thrive Visioning meeting Monday said they’d prefer to see the now-closed LaHarpe Elementary School used in one or two ways.
Some favored a community center, preferably one that would generate some revenue for the city; others want it used by the county as an ambulance station and dispatch center.
The group met for the second of three sessions being held to identifying two or three major projects the city could undertake, explained David Toland, executive director of Thrive Allen County and meeting facilitator.
Monday’s session dealt exclusively with plans for the school building.
After a brief tour of the facilities, 11 audience members said their top priority would be to see the building used as a community center. Options included using it as a day care center, library, meeting room for private functions or receptions, as an exercise center, classroom for adult education or as a senior citizens center. Some of these functions, backers noted, could generate revenue through rent payments or user fees.
The city also could use it as a city hall.
But potential problems were discussed.
Because the building will no longer be used as a school, LaHarpe will lose a significant amount of revenue in the form of utility sales, noted Mayor Wayne Turner, as much as $20,000 annually.
Modifying the building for a city hall would require the city to increase its budget, perhaps as much as 10 percent, estimated City Councilman Harry Lee Jr.,while creating another empty building on Main Street.
Meanwhile, even if the group were unanimous in wanting to see the building converted to an ambulance and communications center, “the choice is not yours to make,” Toland said.
That decision, he noted, would be made by Allen County commissioners, who have already toured the building and indicated that better options may exist elsewhere.
Monday’s brainstorming session also brought up other ideas, such as converting the building into an apartment complex, opening a medical clinic or using it to house city equipment, such as fire trucks.
The group’s ideas will be forwarded to the LaHarpe City Council — several members were in attendance at Monday’s meeting — who will decide whether the city would pursue ownership of the building.
There may be a sense of urgency to the matter. The LaHarpe Council’s next meeting is Aug. 12. As was reported in an article elsewhere in today’s Register, USD 257 Board of Education members said they will accept sealed bids on the structure until Aug. 21.
“I’m sure it will be discussed,” Lee told the Register this morning.